Political commentators expect a purely symbolic spectacle when the two meet in Finland on 16 July. But the backdrop to the event – just days after a Nato summit in Brussels – is leaving some wary on what the US President could concede to his Russian counterpart.
Openly critical of the North Atlantic alliance, Trump might strain relationships even further, which could pose a problem for smaller eastern European nations bordering Russia that are heavily reliant on Nato for protection.
Experts at political analysis firm Eurasia Group believe that the EU would “squirm” over any Trump language that undermines the transatlantic comity on Ukraine or on European security.
Timothy Ash, a senior emerging markets sovereign strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, even claims that Trump offers the prospect of being Putins “Trojan horse within Nato”.
“Remarkably, Trump seems to be happy to work to an agenda which Putin could only have fantasised about — the end of Nato and the North Atlantic alliance,” Ash said in a research note last week. “For Putin, this is his equivalent of the Soviet Unions 1991 moment — his total victory over Nato. Unbelievable stuff, for any observer of geopolitics and post-WWII European history.”
Trump is already at odds with most European leaders after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement, and implementing metal sanctions on the EU. Any further friction would drive an even greater wedge between the EU-US alliance, and put a further dampener on the global investment environment.
What they may fear most at the summit is the American Presidents unpredictably.
Trumps meeting with Putin will also come shortly after a visit to the UK, where hes likely to receive a frosty reception from the public. Coupled with a difficult Nato meeting in Belgium, Trump might then be eager for some positives to take home to Washington after an awkward trip to Europe.
An opinion piece in The Atlantic last week suggested that Trump could pledge to halt US-led Nato military exercises in Poland and the Baltic states that Russia opposes. This would surely leave European officials open-mouthed in incredulity.
Nato has formed the basis of US-Europe cooperation since World War II. But Trump, who won the US election with his anti-global message, has openly bashed the alliance.
In May last year, he declined to explicitly endorse Natos Article 5 – which ensures that allies will come to each others defence in the event of an attack – creating unease among European leaders. However, he then made amends in Warsaw just two months later.
With tensions already fraught, Trump coming to Europe could raise the summer mercury levels up another notch.